Derbyshire MPs have responded with a mix of approval and outrage after Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved to suspend Parliament ahead of the October 31 Brexit deadline.
The prorogation period would drastically reduce the window of opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s actions or potentially block any attempt to leave the EU without a withdrawal deal.
While the procedure is fairly common in parliamentary business, the length of the suspension is unprecedented in modern British history and legal challenges are already under way.
Chesterfield’s Labour MP Toby Perkins said: “Parliament should be sitting every hour god sends to ensure that Britain leaves the European Union in the strongest possible position.
“This is a moment of unprecedented danger for our economy, and for the Prime Minister to suspend Parliament is an act of huge irresponsibility.”
The Prime Minister and his supporters say the suspension of Parliament is a normal step following any change of Government, so that its policy programme can be set out in a new Queen’s speech.
However, given that there has only been a change in leadership, with no mandate beyond the internal Conservative party election, many are questioning the legitimacy of Johnson’s approach.
When the idea of prorogation emerged earlier this summer, many senior Conservatives—including ministers now in the cabinet—said publicly that it would be a step too far.
Toby said: “Where does his authority come from, if not from Parliament? He has done nothing yet to suggest he has a plan for how our economy will cope with the most significant change to face us since the Second World War. To shut down Parliament rather than face Parliamentary scrutiny suggests a contempt not just for Parliament but for the people.
“It is clear that the Government aren’t anywhere near to being ready to leave the European Union without a deal, which makes this an apparently pointless game of chicken.”
He added: “Under our democratic system our MPs are there to represent people, no Prime Minister has the authority to pass a budget or any legislation without the express support of MPs.
“This is the act of a Prime Minister who thinks his power is absolute and is a hugely provocative move at a time of unprecedented instability.”
While the Government may insist that it is following standard procedure, it cannot be ignored that Parliament will be unable to hold the executive to account in the interim.
A significant part of the problem lies in the questions left unanswered by the 2016 vote, and the competing demands of direct and parliamentary democracy—referenda versus elected representatives—which have dogged the Brexit debate since the start, and for which there is no clear-cut constitutional solution.
But for Derbyshire Dales’ Conservative MP Patrick McLoughlin, the equation is simple.
He said: “Parliament gave the British people a choice of whether or not to continue with our membership of the EU.
“A referendum was promised by both the Labour and Conservative Parties and both promised to honour the result. In their 2010 manifesto, the Liberal Democrats also pledged an in/out referendum.
“It is now three years since that referendum. I did not want us to leave the EU and campaigned locally and nationally against doing so. But the electorate was not convinced, so we lost. I accept their decision.”
He added: “In Parliament, I supported the deal offered by the EU on three occasions. I regret this did not carry the support of the House of Commons. Before each vote, I did my best to persuade colleagues.
“Given the stalemate that faces the Government and the country, I believe it is right that the Prime Minister and the government bring this to a conclusion. The deadline of October 31 cannot pass without implementing the decision taken three years ago by the British people
“I cannot imagine what MPs could discuss on those few days which they have not covered in the last three years and over 500 hours of parliamentary debate.”
Those MPs opposed to a ‘no deal’ outcome have been keen to stress that it would be the worst possible way to break ties with the EU, with serious consequences predicted for many sectors of the economy, living standards, security and vital supply lines of essentials such as medicine and food.
High Peak MP Ruth George said: “Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue shows that he’s running scared of proper debate of his damaging plans and the consequences for the British people.
“The vast majority of High Peak constituents did not vote to leave the European Union without a deal, and substantial numbers have told me they’ve changed their mind about Brexit now they’ve seen the implications for our country.
“The only fair way to resolve this and to bring our country together around our future direction is to hold a vote of the people on the way forward.”
Challenges to the prorogation are possible from Scotland, the English courts, in street protests, and within Parliament itself in the few days it will meet next week.
Ruth said: “I will be supporting any legislative move to prevent leaving without a deal unless it has been agreed first by the British people.
“If that isn’t possible because of Boris Johnson’s cynical limiting of Parliamentary time, I will be supporting a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister. His tactics have again shown that he is not fit to hold responsible office.
“Boris Johnson may not be prepared to answer to Parliament, but I am prepared to answer questions from constituents.”
Ruth will be holding a Facebook Live session on her page where constituents can share their views directly with her, 6.30-7.30pm on Thursday, August 29, as well as public meetings in September.
Critics of the government say its actions amount to an anti-democractic coup, but Lee Rowley MP, who has represented the North East Derbyshire constituency since 2017 claims that reaction has been overblown.
He said: “The Government is absolutely not shutting down Parliament. We are currently in the longest Parliamentary session for almost 400 years and the Government is quite right to bring forward a Queen’s Speech setting out the path ahead.
“Parliament will still sit during September and October and I’ll be heading down to Westminster, as planned, on Tuesday when Parliament returns for more debates, discussions and voting.”
He added: “When we do go back, I’m clear that my job is to continue to vote for Brexit to happen. North East Derbyshire voted to leave in 2016 and I support the new Government’s commitment to leaving the European Union on October 31.
“MPs need to stop going round in circles and moaning. It’s time to move on to all of the other important issues that impact our country.”
Erewash’s Conservative MP Maggie Throup agreed, saying: “Without a new Queen’s Speech, the Government is constitutionally unable to bring forward the new legislation required to deliver on its bold domestic agenda as set out by the Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street during his first day in office.
“It is therefore only right that this session is now brought to a close with the prorogation of Parliament in the usual way in preparation for the new Queen’s Speech, which will be delivered on Monday, October 14.”
She added: “It is my expectation that the new Queen’s Speech will include measures to improve our NHS and social care system, fight violent crime, invest in infrastructure and science and cut the cost of living.
“There will also be ample opportunity for MPs to continue to debate Brexit, including a Withdrawal Agreement Bill, should a new deal be negotiated before the UK leaves the EU on October 31.
“Today’s announcement is about empowering Parliament to legislate on the very important domestic agenda, not about thwarting Parliament over Brexit in any way.”
The Conservative MPs for Amber Valley and Mid Derbyshire are yet to respond to requests for comment. This article will be updated as and when they do.